Book review: A History of Bradford City in Objects

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By Jason McKeown

The history of Bradford City has been well-documented over the last 20 years. There are various books that have been published, and the sterling efforts of Bantamspast – who, for a time, ran a much-loved museum above the old club shop – have helped to bring a number of previously untold tales to life. Most committed City fans are now very familiar with the major events in the club’s history; including the players and managers who excelled along the way.

Yet a brand new book – A History of Bradford City AFC in Objects – offers a completely different take on the 111-year existence of the club. Written by well-known and long-standing Bradford City supporter, John Dewhirst (co-founder of The City Gent and contributor of several books), it brings together over 1,000 Bantams-related objects, which collectively tell the story of the social history of the club.

It might sound like an unusual concept, but in practice it actually works very well. This book is a collection of photos of the objects, which have been reproduced impressively. John acts as a narrator throughout, with the book’s text discussing the items that are displayed and their significance. You might not be able to touch the objects, but they come to life as you turn every page.

This is not the story of Bradford City’s century-plus toil up and down the football pyramid. Nor are the objects displayed throughout the 300+ pages obvious items that you would typically see in a museum. Instead, John has focused more on bringing together everyday objects that regular supporters could have picked up themselves, and which indeed many of us own. It provides a fascinating perspective on how this football club is a part of our lives in so many different ways, beyond simply going to Valley Parade every other Saturday.

For example, the book looks back at old playing strips and how the colours have changed over the years. Season ticket booklets (including a promotional brochure of the ill-fated 25-year season tickets), matchday programmes, books, calendars and videos all feature, too.objects book e

John steers away from a familiar weakness that I find with many people who write history books or who put historical collections together – ignoring the recent past. Extensive memorabilia from the Premier League days at the turn of the millennium – and even the 2013 League Cup Final – trigger a flood of warm memories, plus amazement at objects you never saw at the time. It is great to read about history that you were part of, only through a very different lens.

Devising this book has clearly been a labour of love for John, who has covered so many different topics and angles – ensuring the content never becomes boring or repetitive. Take a section on club documents and publications. Beyond a striking re-election letter from chairman J. Russell Rose to his counterparts, outlining reasons why Bradford City should be voted to remain in the Football League, there are marketing promotions from the 1990s that range from Bradford City credit cards to the half time lottery. To see a Bradford City McDonalds Privilege Card – I used to own and use one prior to home games – certainly took me back.

My favourite section was on Bradford City merchandise. From a document featuring the price list and range of club shop items that were available to supporters in the 1960s (a car sticker cost 15p,a silk scarf set you back 75p), all the way through to glossy catalogues that were produced in the 1990s. Seeing photos of Peter Beagrie, Gary Walsh and Robbie Blake posing with Bradford City towels, energy drinks, and Billy Bantam cuddly toys somehow seems quaint these days. I want a Bradford City toothbrush!

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Towards the end of the book, John focuses on objects surrounding the six highest profile events in the club’s history – namely the 1911 Cup Final, the aftermath of the 1985 Fire Disaster, 1996 Wembley promotion, the two-year spell in the Premier League between 1999 and 2011, the 2013 League Cup Final and the 2013 Wembley promotion. Other highlights in the book include Bradford City Panini stickers and cigarette cards.

There is so much covered with the book (for example, a history of Bradford City supporter organisations and fanzines, taking us right up to the present day, will spark some debate). And the feeling you take away from reading it is of pride and wonderment about the trail of objects that Bradford City has left in all our lives. We all have our own Bradford City objects – not the just the obvious like matchday programmes and ticket stubs, but all manner of items that might seem worthless to anyone but ourselves. This book will get you thinking about them, and perhaps ruing others that you discarded or lost along the way.

Priced at £30 this is not a cheap book, but such depth of content, and the attractive manner in which items are displayed, ensures this is a book you will not only enjoy reading once, but be keen to re-visit again and again.

A History of Bradford City in objects goes on sale in the middle of October, and can be purchased from Amazon or Waterstones. Prior to the home game with Sheffield United on Saturday 18 October, a special event will be held at the One in a Million school next to Valley Parade – promoting this book and also celebrating the 30th anniversary of The City Gent.  

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